The Movie (2.5/5)
Nazis. World War 2. Espionage. Three things Hollywood absolutely loves to mash together into daring spy movies. Typically, they’re focused, engaging efforts that place our heros and heroines in the middle of the war, struggling to survive and deliver information to one side, or stop another side from stealing information. What happens when you attempt the same kind of picture, but detach it from the action and slow it way down? The result is 36 Hours, a 1965 MGM release. Directed by Academy Award winning screenwriter George Seaton, the film, which stars James Garner and Eva Marie Saint in the leading roles, is a story of love, mystery, and political intrigue set against the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944.
36 Hours is the story of Major Jefferson Pike, an American intelligence officer who’s spent the years before the D-Day allied invasion trading information on German troop placements and military plans. Knowing the stakes of the failure of the Normandy Beach invasion, he’s sent by his superior officers to Lisbon, Portugal to meet with a reliable informant of his to acquire information on German troop placements in France days before D-Day. Anticipating his arrival, he is captured by Germans and placed into a fabricated reality, created by psychiatrist Walter Gerber, in hopes that by fooling the major into believing it’s 1950 that he’ll spill the secrets of the allied invasion plan. Inadvertently helped by a nurse placed into his simulation, he must take every measure he can to escape imprisonment, while at the same time saving the allied forces landing on the beaches from total annihilation in a tense, slow burning thriller of a movie.
36 Hours is such an interesting, but ultimately tedious concept to watch unfold on screen. It feels like two distinct movies with completely different goals; one is a film which experiments with this concept of using the illusion of a falsified reality to manipulate a man into doing what you want, similar to say, The Truman Show, and the other is your typical escapism, in which our two leads must run from the terror of the German war machine. The switch between the two brings a tonality shift that, if the movie didn’t run 115 minutes in length would probably be okay. Instead, we get a tense, daring escape that sort of just slowly putters along over the course of the film’s second hour, and an intriguing concept for interrogation that is wasted with a script that’s far too impatient to explore it for very long. Had this been an Alfred Hitchcock film, it would have clocked in at 90 minutes and played out like a thrill ride. Instead, I struggled to keep my eyes open during a second act that drags horribly.
Led by Hollywood screen legends James Garner and Eva Marie Saint as the leads, they bring opposing energies to screen, which is engaging because it plays against the traditional character arcs of these Hollywood war stories. James Garner plays the suave, manly Jefferson Pike, who uses his muscle and volume to coerce Marie Saint’s Anna Hedler into participating in his escape, and Saint plays into her character brilliantly as a detached, broken war refugee who’s been tossed around by the Nazis like a ball of tragedy. Their lack of chemistry is so exciting in an otherwise drawn out, boring film because it feels so authentic; they’re both here to do jobs, and romance never really plays a factor in their respective jobs when it comes to escaping the Nazis. Rod Taylor steps in as the psychiatrist behind all of the madness, coming off as a smart, scheming German soldier, but whose acting chops are quite enough to sell us on his character’s change of heart halfway through the film.
Where it fails to engage in terms of acting and narrative power, it more than makes up with a proficient sense of style and production design. Shot in black and white with Panavision lenses, the film presents this world of illusion as a world devoid of color, using the sharp contrast to give the detailed costumes and intricate set design an almost ultra-realistic look. The score, composed Dimitri Tiomkin, is light around the edges, but adds tries valiantly to add an excellent layer of suspense to an otherwise misguided film. Normally this is where I’d add some thoughts about the film’s editing and overall construction, but I think that editor Adrienne Fazan might have fallen asleep at the wheel during post production.
36 Hours is some killer, with an incredibly interesting premise and two leads who play into their roles with maximum effectiveness, but mostly filler, with pacing that is anemic during its second half. It robs the film’s interesting premise, in which a man is placed into a fabricated scene to manipulate him for critical information of any room to go anywhere, as the filmmakers decided to cut too quickly to the reveal and escape. They then take all this potential momentum and squander it, making 36 Hours feel like it’s 36 days long.
The Video (5/5)
Shot on 4-perf black and white 35mm film with Panavision anamorphic lenses, 36 Hours was originally presented in theaters using the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Restored by Warner Archive and presented off of a new HD master, 36 Hours is presented in 1080p resolution, maintaining the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
There’s something beautiful about the combination of black and white negative and those classic Panavision lenses that truly shines in this new release of 36 Hours. The transfer is detailed, and covered in an authentic layer of film grain. The real hero of this 1080p presentation however, is the incredible black levels and contrast maintained throughout the feature. The inky blacks and rich whites make this scope image pop in the best ways imaginable. Even when I wasn’t thrilled by the movie itself, I was drawn into cinematographer Philip Lathrop’s imagery by Warner Archive’s masterful video transfer of this film.
The Audio (4/5)
Originally presented on film with a mono optical soundtrack, 36 Hours is presented with a DTS-Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack that recreates the original mono experience as heard in 1965.
As far as mono presentations go, 36 Hours is a true delight. The excellent score is presenting in a finely layered mix that has plenty of room for the dialogue and various sound effects that are used throughout the film. In fact, this transfer is so clean that it reveals much of the film’s ADR’d dialogue, which is sharper and cleaner than much of the other recorded sounds. That however, doesn’t make it a bad mix; it’s really quite good for its age.
Special Features/Packaging (2/5)
36 Hours has been released to home video by Warner Archive in a standard Blu-ray keepcase. The front artwork features a re-purposed art from the previous Warner DVD release of the film, with James Garner and Eva Marie Saint hiding behind a tree as nazi soldiers look for them in the background. It presents the film as a chase film of sorts, which is slightly misleading. The back features a tagline for a film above a series of black and white stills from the film, a few paragraphs about the film, credits for the film, and technical specs for the release. It’s a solid packaging design, par for the course for the Warner Archive crew.
The release features a sole extra, the film’s theatrical trailer, which was seen before its release in 1965.
In terms of features and packaging, this one, much like the film its paired with, hits a little below the mark in this department.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Region Coding: None
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DTS-Master Audio 2.0 Mono (English)
Runtime: 115 minutes
Held back by some misguided editing, 36 Hours was ultimately all bark and no bite. It crawls through a boring escape sequence, which robs the film of any chance to explore its unique premise. In the right hands, it could have been something like The Truman Show, but set in the middle of the 40s war machine that ravaged much of Europe. Regardless, Warner Archive has brought the film to Blu-ray with a picture perfect 1080p visual presentation and an excellent reproduction of the original mono sound design. Fans of the film should be more than pleased with their effort.